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The calculus of affinity – the case of Peter Bleach
In 1995, Peter Bleach, together with five Latvians, was imprisoned by the Indian authorities for parachuting crates of rifles, missiles and rocket launchers to rebel groups into eastern India. Bleach and his accomplices had hired an Antonov A-26 transport plane, loaded it with arms and proceeded with an arms drop to the Purulia village in West Bengal, either to aid rebels or, according to some reports, the Ananda Marg (Blissful Path) cult. After the arms drop, the plane flew on to Thailand, but Indian jets forced it to land at Bombay airport four days later when it re-entered Indian air space. Bleach was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Sessions Court here for conspiring to “wage war against India”. Home Secretary Blunkett in his recent visit to India in January 2004 successfully secured Bleach’s release. The Home Secretary was honouring the commitment of nationality – the claim to sovereignty over citizens - when he sought Bleach’s repatriation. This compact is documented in our passport, “Her Britannic Majesty’s Secretary of State requests and requires in the name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary”.
These efforts stand in stark contrast to the case of several British Muslims. How much pressure was really put on the US Government for the application of the due process of law for the nine held in communicado in Guantanamo? It appears that the release of five has more to do with an impending US Supreme Court ruling than any forceful stand by a Secretary of State. Omar Khan Shareef of Derby, was held by Israeli forces for a fortnight – did the British ambassador ever seek access? Shareef’s body was discovered off the Israeli coast in May 2003. Then there is the detention of two Britons in Morocco - Abdelatis Merroun and Perry Jensen – on alleged terrorism charges. Four men are in prison in Egypt - Reza Pankhurst, Malcom Nisbett, Maajid Nawaz and Hassan Rizfi – three for trying to establish a branch of a political party, the Hizb Tehrir. A wife of one of the men has responded to the lack of diplomatic effort by the Government, “this is because Egypt is a major player in the Middle East and Britain has many interests to fulfil, such as the economic and strategic interests that it has in this region. It is for this reason that it has not 'rocked the boat' in demanding the release of the 'Egypt three' even though it has been questioned by the Media in this regard. Their pressure has been in no way comparable to the pressure they put on the Saudi authorities to release the British nurses and the pressure applied on the Greek authorities for the acquittal of the plane spotters”.
The tough-on-terrorism Home Secretary was prepared to press the Indian Government on the Bleach case. It seems there is a weaker affinity to other detainees.